How the African Leadership Academy Is Fighting the Continent’s Education Exodus

November 29, 2010
A South African academy aims to teach the continent's brightest -- and fight widespread brain drain.

Lennon Chimbumu is the kind of young adult every mom dreams of raising. Polite and well spoken, the Zimbabwean 20-year-old will probably major in computer science at Stanford, where he's a freshman. During his first few months in the U.S., he felt some culture shock, but the time was also revelatory. He listened to the Beatles for the first time, and his roommate introduced him to more modern bands, such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Gorillaz. He's also been swept up by that most American of college experiences: football. "Sometimes I don't understand half the stuff that's happening on the field," he says, "but the feel of being in the stands is definitely exciting."

As he adjusts to life in the U.S., Chimbumu could also become a huge problem for Africa. Bright prospects like him rarely return once they leave, and brain drain has been an enormous challenge for African nations. So an innovative new boarding school in Johannesburg is trying to create some incentives to keep talent at home. The two-year African Leadership Academy program targets the continent's most talented young people, positions them to get top Western-college educations -- this fall, it sent its first graduating class abroad, including Chimbumu -- and then tries to make sure they come back.